Legendary rocker Tom Petty died earlier this week of cardiac arrest at the age of 66. Since the ‘70s, Petty and his band The Heartbreakers have been putting their own unique spin on classic rock, producing hit after hit, including songs like Last Dance with Mary Jane and Into the Great Wide Open. Most of us have been moved by Petty’s music at some point in our lives. Just try and listen to Free Fallin’ without singing along to every line. Over the years he’s been writing and performing, Petty has cemented himself as one of the greatest rockers of his generation. We’re pretty devastated over the news of his death, though we’re trying to take comfort in the fact that his songs will surely live on to inspire music lovers for years to come.
Petty passed away before he could write his own memoir, although there is an excellent book written about his life. Petty: The Biography, by Warren Zanes, came out in 2015 and offers an honest and comprehensive account of Petty’s life and career. Author Zanes is also a musician, and was a close friend of Petty’s. It’s a shame that Petty didn’t get to write his own story though, as we’re sure he could have crafted a mesmerizing read. As book – and music! – lovers, we’ve come to recognize that many musicians are also amazing writers, producing both songs and stories that instantly pull us into their narratives. It’s why Bob Dylan even won a special Pulitzer last year for his lifetime of captivating lyrics.
In honor of Petty and the iconic music he’s given us over the years, we’ve rounded up 6 books by his peers and fellow musicians that are definite must reads:
Just Kids, Patti Smith (2010)
Smith’s masterful memoir about her early days as an artist is so well written that it even won a National Book Award in 2010. Focusing on her formative relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (who died of AIDS in 1989), the book traces Smith’s steps as she moved from a writer into a rock star. Both nostalgic and unflinchingly honest, Just Kids is the kind of engagingly moving story that’s impossible to put down.
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen (2016)
“The Boss” comes alive in this personal memoir about Springsteen’s life. From his childhood spent in New Jersey to the moment he realized he wanted to be a musician, this is an all-encompassing read that allows you to see inside the mind of one of the world’s most popular artists. He’s also just a great storyteller, crafting compelling anecdotes and a clear description of his inner life: what inspires him, his anxieties and demons, and the dedication to his art that has fueled him from the start.
Glow, Rick James, with David Ritz (2014)
Glow is actually James’ second memoir, after the 2004 book, The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Super Freak. Both books dive deep into the life of the “Super Freak” himself, offering candid (and wild!) stories about his time in the spotlight, his origins as a musicians and the many talented people he worked with along the way. Collaborator and biographer David Ritz apparently helped James write the original book and felt that it didn’t tell the story in the way the artist would have liked – leading him to publish the reedited Glow nearly 10 years after James’ death.
Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon (2015)
As a founding member of Sonic Youth, musician Gordon was present during the rise of alternative rock, and the underground music scene in NYC that helped pave the way for the larger social movements of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Girl in the Band is a deep and raw portrayal of an artist who often shied away from the public eye. The book spans her life from childhood and girlhood to finding her identity as a woman, a mother, and an artist who opened the door for so many other young rockers.
After the Dance: My Life with Marvin Gaye, Jan Gaye (2015)
Though Jan Gaye may not be a musician herself, she did have immediate access to one of culture’s most celebrated musical artists. Gaye first met Marvin Gaye when she was only 17 years old. From there, the two became intrinsically intertwined, eventually marrying in 1977 and divorcing in 1981. Also co-written by David Ritz (who authored the definitive Marvin Gaye bio, Divided Soul), After the Dance is an honest and emotional portrayal of a complicated man, a tumultuous relationship and what it meant to love someone both so talented and so self-destructive.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein (2015)
Best known these days as one half of the zany Portlandia team, Brownstein first got her start as a feminist punk rocker. Her 2015 memoir is an intimate examination of her rise as a musician, how she found solace in her love of music, and her experiences as a founding member of indie punk rock group, Sleater-Kinney. With her clear prose and expert storytelling style, Brownstein also turns a sharp eye on the music scene in the ‘90s, including riot grrrl culture and the complicated politics of being a true hardcore feminist rocker.
Watch Tom Petty’s performance of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the 2004 Rock & Roll of Fame Awards:
What’s your favorite Tom Petty song? (We might be leaning toward Breakdown…) Let us know yours in the comments!